Abe, Honestly

Just posted to our site, John Anderson on Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," which opens today:

Daniel Day-Lewis gives us the president we want in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. And Spielberg gives us the movie we expect. Positioned for Oscars and likely to get them, it’s a canonization fer sure, as Abe might say. Spielberg enjoys such an exalted stature in the public mind that he could not do anything less.

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At the same time, the filmmakers bestow upon Lincoln a highly calibrated sanctity, one that acknowledges the politician behind the man behind the image behind the myth. Like the picture of Mr. Lewis in the ubiquitous print ads for the movie—think of a penny, held at a downward angle—the Lincoln of “Lincoln” is slightly askew.

The fractured humanity of Spielberg’s Lincoln—who is also the Lincoln of the screenwriter Tony Kushner and the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin—makes him endearing but also precludes the movie’s being dismissed as an American liberal whitewash of a problematic president. Lincoln had his issues. As Mr. Kushner told this writer, the 16th president came from a state that was institutionally hostile to blacks; he was personally acquainted with very few; he was genuinely surprised when he met anyone who could read and write. He was not entirely comfortable with the idea of racial equality.

But there is a sense throughout the film that Abraham Lincoln’s education parallels the nation’s. And this raises questions about the timing of the movie’s release. It is hard to miss the message one gets from “Lincoln” that a vote against Barack Obama is a vote against Abraham Lincoln. And yet the film was held back until three days after the election.

Read the full review here.

Tim Reidy

 

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